Fisheries and Land Resources

Black Bears
Living with Black Bears in Newfoundland and Labrador

Our Traditional Predator

Black bears (Ursus americanus) are native to Newfoundland and Labrador. They are found throughout the province, although they are rarely observed on the Avalon Peninsula.

  • Newfoundland and Labrador's black bears roam large territories: recent studies indicate a female black bear's home range to be 60-250 km², while a male's home range can reach 850 km².
  • Black bears in the wild are usually most active around dawn and dusk (crepuscular); bears living in closer proximity to humans are more nocturnal.
  • Black bears prefer heavily wooded areas and dense bush.
  • There are no reliable estimates of the total black bear population in North America because of the animals' secretive nature, but populations are believed to be about 600,000, with more than 380,000 in Canada. Population numbers in Newfoundland and Labrador are estimated at 6,000 to 10,000 bears.

Identifying Black Bears

Black Bear
Joe Brazil
Black Bear
Chuck Porter

Like most animals, black bears usually have a natural fear of people, but they can quickly get used to life in residential areas as long as they have easy access to food. Although attacks on humans are extremely rare, they can occur if a black bear becomes too comfortable around people and starts associating humans with food.

  • Bulky animal with a moderate-sized head; a tapered, brownish muzzle and long nostrils; rounded ears; small eyes; and a short tail. Coat is usually black, sometimes with a white patch on the throat or chest. Feet are furry with five curved, non-retractable claws used for digging and tearing out stumps or roots.
  • Average size is approximately 5 ft (150 cm) long, with shoulder height varying from 3-4 ft high (100 to 120 cm). Adult males weigh about 200-300 lb (90-136 kg) although weights of more than 640 lb (290 kg) have been recorded in bears that eat garbage and human food. Females are much smaller than males, averaging 110-180 lb (50-80 kg).
  • Emerge from dens and begin searching for food in early spring, and will eat almost anything available, including plants, berries, ants, fish, small mammals, and birds. Also eat carrion or garbage, and are often attracted to garbage dumps, campsites, or homes where food is readily available. In spring they are known to prey on moose and caribou calves.
  • Flexible lips and a long, agile tongue to help access small pieces of food and insects. Although its eyesight is relatively poor at distance, a black bear has a keen sense of hearing. Black bears can run up to 55 km/hour, and are also good swimmers and climbers.

Are black bears dangerous?

We live in harmony with most wildlife in Newfoundland and Labrador, often without even realizing it. Our forests and barrens are home to many animals. Unless we intentionally seek them out, some people can go a lifetime without being aware of their presence. As long as humans and wildlife respect each others' boundaries, conflicts can be avoided - but we all have to do our part to make sure we don't encourage behaviour that could cause problems for wildlife.

Black bears are always looking for an easy meal. Once they find a source of human food or garbage, they continue to seek it out from backpacks, picnic tables, coolers or garbage cans. When black bears become accustomed (or habituated) to humans, their natural fear of people fades and they take more chances to access food. Habituated bears are unpredictable and may become aggressive.

Little can be done to manage habituated bears. These animals often pay with their lives for human mistakes. Avoid creating problem bears by making sure food, trash and other attractants are stored properly.

Although black bears are usually timid and attacks are extremely rare, they are wild animals and can be dangerous.

If black bears are near your home, cabin or campsite:

  • Do not feed them.
  • Do not leave food, pet food, bottles, pop cans or food containers outside.
  • Store food, garbage, coolers, camp stoves, pots and pans in your shed, cabin or vehicle.
  • Harvest fruit from fruit trees when ripe.
  • Keep dairy products and meat out of compost piles.
  • Clean barbecue grills after use to minimize odour.
  • Bird feeders attract bears. Remove bird feeders from your yard in April
    and replace them in November.
  • Store garbage inside a shed or garage until just before pick-up.
  • When camping, dispose of waste water in a pit privy if possible.

Be alert when walking in the woods:

  • Watch for signs of bear activity, such as tracks, scat, evidence of digging, or claw marks on trees.
  • Avoid areas bears may frequent, such as garbage dumps.
  • Make your presence known by making noise as you walk; talk, sing, blow a whistle
    or call out occasionally.
  • Keep dogs leashed. Dogs running loose can lead a bear back to you or provoke an attack.

If a black bear approaches you:

  • Stay calm.
  • Give the bear space and an escape route.
  • Speak calmly and firmly, avoid eye contact, and back away slowly
  • Never run or try to climb a tree. Bears can do both of these things better than you!
  • If the bear begins to follow you, drop something (not food) to distract it.
  • Be cautious around females with cubs.
  • If the bear attacks you, fight back and make a lot of noise. Do not "play dead."

For more information, or to report a coyote sighting, please contact:

Department of Environment and Climate Change
Wildlife Division
P.O. Box 2007
117 Riverside Drive
Corner Brook, NL A2H 7S1
Tel: (709) 637-2025
Last Updated:
This page and all contents are copyright, Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, all rights reserved.